Healthcare Business News

Anti-tobacco push eased in election year, group says

By Rich Daly
Posted: January 16, 2013 - 5:00 am ET

After three years of aggressive efforts to regulate tobacco products, the Obama administration largely stopped during the 2012 election year, according to a new report from the leading lung health advocacy group.

The American Lung Association's new annual report on federal and state anti-tobacco efforts (PDF) detailed a range of administration actions that were expected to occur in 2012 but never materialized, such as FDA rules asserting jurisdiction over tobacco products other than cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products.

“We haven't seen much progress or public statements on tobacco recently,” said Paul Billings, senior vice president for advocacy and education at the American Lung Association. “We're hoping as the year moves ahead that we'll see renewed progress.”

The Obama administration won high praise from anti-smoking groups when it championed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which President Barack Obama signed into law in 2009, to give FDA authority to regulate cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products. And that action was followed by two years of regulatory efforts to beat back tobacco use.

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But some expected follow-up actions never materialized, such as the FDA using its authority under the 2009 law to assert jurisdiction over other products, including cigars and e-cigarettes.

“Despite announcing two years ago that it would assert jurisdiction over tobacco products other than cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products, FDA has yet to publish a proposed rule,” the report noted.

The report also detailed the continuing trend of states diverting most of the money raised through increased tobacco taxes to purposes other than prevention and cessation programs. Specifically, the report found that out of $25.7 billion in taxes and tobacco settlement funds collected in the last fiscal year, states spent only $462.5 million, or 1.7%, on such programs. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended allocating 14.4%, or eight times as much, each year to such programs.

“It's a cynical ploy on the part of policymakers to tax tobacco and not actually invest in the programs,” Billings said.

Billings said states have spent the tobacco money on a wide assortment of other priorities.

Anti-smoking advocates may see similar results in Illinois—the only state to increase its cigarette taxes last year—and they may be partly to blame.

The report described the lung association's efforts that led to a $1 increase in the state's cigarette tax to help cover a $1.1 billion shortfall in Medicaid funding.

“The lung association quickly built a statewide coalition to increase the cigarette tax and prevent further devastating cuts to the Medicaid program,” according to the report.

A state policy official for the American Lung Association in Illinois did not respond to requests to comment on the issue.

Meanwhile, the state spent only 8.7% of its tobacco-related receipts funds on prevention and cessation—well short of the CDC target.

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